The Great British BBC Bias Debate

misreporting-scotlandIs the BBC biased against independence?  It’s a straightforward question isn’t it?  And it’s a question that causes angst within some quarters of the independence movement.

This week a heated debate ensued over plans by a grass-roots Yes group to run a billboard campaign that highlighted ‘misreporting’ by BBC Scotland.  The ‘Misreporting Scotland’ billboards direct people to a website on which is posted articles that support the theory that the BBC operates a pro-Union agenda.

The group behind the campaign launched a crowdfunding appeal that raised almost £9000 within a week – easily beating the £8500 target.  The success of the campaign prompted a few sneering attacks from a handful of pro-independence commentators.


One prominent figure claimed that the billboards were the Yes campaign equivalent of the Orange Order [Seriously].

Others agreed with the remark and the grass-roots group were pilloried as being stupid.

Some questioned why Yessers would fund such a venture rather than giving money to The National or the radical-left outlet Common Space.

It apparently escaped the attention of those promoting such an idea that people making donations to the billboard campaign did so because they wanted to highlight BBC misreporting.  Something neither The National nor Common Space has any track record of.

I described the sneerers as ‘snobs’ and asked what they had done to address the anti-independence agenda prevalent within the BBC.  It prompted a rather curious reply which suggested the Common Space might have something to do with the ‘debate’ I was seeing on social media.  I later discovered the site had posted an article critical of the billboards.


I was dismayed at some of the responses.  Here was a group of grass-roots activists who were being pro-active and trying to do something about a malaise most Yessers acknowledge exists.  Yet they were being dismissed as unsophisticated conspiracy-crazies, too dim to appreciate the damage they were causing the Yes movement.

There were those who were voicing justifiable concerns about the billboards.  Was it a good idea to ‘target’ the trusted BBC in this way?  Was the BBC as bad as the billboards were implying?  But the sneerers were adopting an altogether different tone.  It was aloof.  They were looking down on the very people without whom there would be no Yes movement.

Were the billboards that bad?  They accused the BBC of misreporting but give no clue as to the nature of the misreporting.  Unionists have made similar claims about BBC Scotland.

bbc-cahootsSome No voters actually believe that the broadcaster favours the SNP as the headline from the Scotsman claimed in 2013.  Would the public automatically assume the billboards were being funded by a pro-independence group?

They direct people to a web site that, as well as containing well researched articles, contain links to a whole raft of media content.  [I have to declare an interest of course.  Some of the articles are mine.]

Having reached the site, would No voters be persuaded to move to Yes?  Well no, because that’s not the purpose of the site.  Its purpose is to persuade visitors not to take at face value everything they consume via traditional media.  It’s an attempt at bringing to the attention of those unaware that the traditional media isn’t as honest and as balanced as they perhaps have been led to believe.

Will it succeed?  I don’t know.  Nobody does.  The point though is that ordinary people are getting off their backsides and doing something.  Why is that?  They are being forced to do something because those Yes leaning commentators who are privileged enough to be offered platforms on the likes of the BBC and other outlets, steadfastly refuse to confront or call-out an institutionalised corruption that they know exists.

It’s a corruption that allows discussions like the one below to be broadcast on Radio Scotland just this Saturday.


Some of the sneerers have suggested complaints about the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics are based on claims of a conspiracy.  They say those of us questioning political output believe there are regular clandestine meetings at high-level within BBC Scotland in an attempt at manipulating the news.

This is a grotesque mischaracterisation of the criticism of the BBC.  It is a straw-man argument that allows those of us who question BBC output to be portrayed as loons and nutters.

There are people at BBC Scotland whom critics of the BBC admire.  For me there is no more professional broadcaster than Isabel Fraser.  I have time for Ken MacDonald.  Nick Eardley hasn’t given cause for concern nor has Jamie McIvor.  Johnny Beattie had an excellent independence referendum and I think the Pacific Quay team was lessened when David Millar left.  There are many others in news and current affairs who do not cause me to reach for the off switch.

But there are those who do.  Below is one of the presenters that I believe did little to enhance the reputation of the BBC during the independence referendum.  Watch the continual interruptions from Glenn Campbell in this interview from 2010.

Other presenters who give cause for concern include Kaye Adams who falsely claimed during the indyref that attacks on English people had increased in Scotland, despite the opposite being true.  Adams’ show is a conduit for political bigots who are regularly allowed to twist any issue into an attack on the SNP.


Phone-in topics prompted by Unionist attacks are also regularly featured.


You could write a book on the corrupt practices at BBC Scotland when covering political issues.  Indeed I already have.  You can buy ‘London calling’ for less than two quid here.  There is, as many of you will know, a seventy minute documentary that is currently touring local areas and that is receiving a quite extraordinary reception wherever it is screened.  Look out for it.  Below is a wee teaser in the form of a trailer.

The BBC continues to live down to expectations when it comes to Scottish news and current affairs.  I can reveal that a complaint submitted in February is finally to come before the BBC Trust in November.  Yes that’s correct, fully nine months after the broadcast aired, the Trust will hear the complaint.

The complaint should be an open and closed case.  The background can be read here.  However, being the BBC, I expect the ruling to find in favour of the broadcaster.

On Sunday Common Space editor Angela Haggerty used the billboards debate as the subject of her weekly social media article in the Sunday Herald.  Angela challenged what she described as “claims of media mind control” and said the billboard idea “makes me squirm a little”.

Below is a snippet from her column.

“I assume that the purpose of this billboard campaign is to speak to No voters, and if that’s the case I’m worried.  It’s deeply insulting to suggest to people that they’ve made a bad decision because they weren’t able to work an answer out for themselves. Put yourselves in their shoes: how might it make you feel?

Would you suddenly think you’d seen the light, or would you just think it was a bit mad that someone would put that on a billboard?”

The billboards don’t actually contain anything that might suggest No voters ‘weren’t able to work an answer out for themselves’.  The billboards inform those who pass it that the BBC is ‘misreporting Scotland’.  They direct people to a website.  The small number of people who might curiously visit the site are presented with a mix of content from a variety of sources, including traditional and alternative media.

Angela later casually insults those behind the campaign with the laziest of canards:

“There’s a real risk of projecting an image of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories to people who might otherwise be prepared to listen to the case for independence.”

Here’s what I think Angela might be failing to appreciate.  The problem is that the ‘case for independence’ is being contorted by traditional media coverage of the issue.  It’s this caricature of the Yes case that persuadable No voters were fed by the BBC and most newspapers during Indyref1.  Some of the Yes arguments were sound, but they were presented as though risky and not viable by a corrupt media.

Somehow though I don’t think my arguments will persuade Angela to see things a tad differently.  Her views on me were clear this week when she posted a tweet comparing me to Donald Trump.



Perhaps like another Common Space colleague, she mistakenly believed I was the billboard mastermind.

I wish the grass-roots activists well in the billboard campaign.  The BBC is no friend to independence and it played a crucial role in turning what appeared to be momentum for Yes, into a win for No in the final weeks of Indyref1.

There were three polls in the final weeks that gave Yes a slender lead.  The British establishment threw everything at us in those last few days.  Its main weapon was the British state broadcaster.

Oh, and finally.  In researching this article I came across something I had long since forgotten about. Just after the referendum, an initiative was launched that urged people to stop paying their TV licence and stop buying newspapers due to the anti-indy bias from the traditional media.

The initiative didn’t attract vitriol from anyone as far as I can recall.  Nobody described those behind it as conspiracy nuts or suggested it would damage the independence movement.  Who was the mastermind I hear you ask?  It was none other than Mike Small of Bella Caledonia.


Mike seemed to think the billboards were a terrible idea.  small-billboardsNot as bad as though as announcing a ‘buycott’ of the TV licence on the BBC itself during a debate on the BBC’s independence referendum coverage.


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19 thoughts on “The Great British BBC Bias Debate

  1. brobb

    I think you’ve made reasonable points here GAP, and i hope you can move on now without getting dragged down into tit for tat posts, no matter how provocative. There was a good Wee Ginger Dug post on this subject too about accepting different ways of trying to influence no to yes voters – hopefully we can all resist picking holes in each other’s tactics and just put forward our ideas, run our campaigns without labour style infighting. It’s not like we’re short of MSM critics!

  2. Clydebuilt

    Just read The article in the Sunday Herald by the Editor of Commonspace.
    1. Having been exposed to many news programmes during her youth didn’t stop Angela from becoming a left leaning Independence supporting woman. The levels of propaganda emanating from the BBC years ago were very low compared to what Scotland is being exposed to currently. Left leaning, many senior journalists at BBC Scotland have strong links to the Labour Party.
    2. “I was brought up believing it was healthy to consume a wide range of media, to engage with it, and most importantly, to always question it” …… Good for you, some people don’t know the names of the leaders of the political parties, etc.
    3. “It’s deeply insulting to suggest to people that they’ve made a bad decision because they weren’t able to work an answer out for themselves.” That’s not what’s being suggested, they are being informed that a supplier of information is not trustworthy. This will help them to make better decisions.
    4. ” they don’t want to be told the BBC made their decisions for them.” Really, in my experience people are grateful when they are informed they have been hoodwinked , and have anger for the source of the lies.
    5. “Consider this: despite the imbalance of the media landscape, the pro-independence vote rose substantially to reach 45 per cent” ……. Without the imbalance of the media landscape there’s a strong chance that Scotland would now be negotiating her independence.

    Tell you what Angela, you get on with your contribution to the campaign and we’ll get on with ours. That’s the Wee Ginger Dog’s response, and it’s mine as well.

  3. DW1

    We shall soon see how biased the BBC is when their royal charter review is complete and we see if there is any wording about promoting ‘Britishness’.

    We shall see if there if a fairer share of the license fee is spent in Scotland, and if a Scottish Six news programme is finally delivered.

    The main problem is that broadcasting isn’t devolved and there is no public alternative to the BBC that better reflects a Scottish audience, besides a minority channel for Gaelic speakers.

    So the issue isn’t just editorial bias in news and current affairs. It is the whole setup. If the Scottish Government wanted to provide an alternative public channel, and negotiate a fairer share of licence fee funding, they can’t get space allocated on the airwaves or on freeview.

    Turning on BBC TV at random, odds are against hearing a Scottish accent, or seeing Scottish issues discussed. BBC Scotland operates on an opt-out only basis, and the rest of the time we get token contestants on UK shows – with Scots are only represented on a population basis – 8.3% of the UK.

    So we will get the occasional Scot on the baking or the dancing show.. the odd candidate on the Apprentice etc.

    As a nation in its own right, Scotland is very poorly represented.

  4. Andy McKirdy

    I sometimes wonder if the personal agendas of people like Small and Haggerty are more important than independence??
    Was “Bella” not one of the champions of NOT voting SNP/SNP at the Scottish elections(that worked out well) and as far as Haggerty suggests people would be insulted at suggesting they couldn’t work things out for themselves, wake the fek up Angela, I’m insulted that a very large percentage of the Scottish public, who are mostly NO voters know jack shit about anything!! and they are totally influenced by what the BBC and the likes of the Daily Record TELLS them to think(without the need to check it out for themselves).
    They get the same number of votes as me or any other person that bothers to take the time to “work things out for themselves”
    The billboard campaign is an attempt to encourage people to not just accept being spoon fed and to take the time to check things out, how is that a bad thing.
    OR are the snobs and the sneerers “doing a David Torrance” and taking the huff with “punters” thinking they are political commentators, that after all is their preserve, is it not and like the BBC and the MSM they maybe want us to just listen to them and do what they tell us!!!!!

    1. Philip Maughan

      Just after the EU referendum, two young women from a very pro Brexit town were asked by C4 News about what they saw as the future for UKIP. Their response was ‘What’s UKIP?’ Never overestimate the knowledge/wisdom of the average voter I say.

  5. Andy McKirdy

    Thanks Clydebuilt.
    Just because we don’t get paid for our opinions doesn’t make what we say less worthy.
    We are all “political commentators” now, is that not how it should be???

  6. Stephen Mann

    When I studied for my Modern Studies O Grade and Higher in the late 1970s we used counterpoint from the likes of the Glasgow Media Group, to de mythologise and debunk bias in ‘journalism’ – I often wonder what happened with this group. Does anyone know?

    What we get from the MSM is institutional and unconscious bias, the latter being the worst offender as we grow accustomed to it and it simply becomes the norm. That’s what the MSM has become, the establishments broadcasting channel.

    So the lettering on the flagship Pacific Quay HQ should read – EBC Scotland – or in other words, the Establishment Broadcasting Channel for Scotland.

    1. Eddie

      Good point Alanski, attacking G.A.P and the Inform Billboards can’t do your chances of getting In front of a camera at the BBC or STV any harm.

      A career move.

  7. Jas

    A very interesting post in many ways which highlights the differing attitudes on how to go about political involvement. I approve of the billboard campaign but I hate the idea someone had of plastering the environment with wee stickers. Why vandalise the place in which we all live? It’s as bad as seeing cigarette stubs piling up everywhere. Why do people insist on shitting in their own nest?

    I’ve been involved with the SNP since the 70s but as a bit of an anarchist have always felt a bit at odds with the party’s orthodox, formally polite approach (I bet most of them read Wings but would never admit it). I can understand the hierarchy’s wish to stay ‘onside’ and to play ‘the game’ even though this has proved to be a real uphill struggle. Overcoming the effects of ideology is not a simple task. The problem of taking on the BBC is that for those people who are not much interested in political discourse, or don’t even pay much attention to ‘the news where we are’, they may not quite understand the billboard campaign. They watch the BBC for all the things that are NOT the news or politics. And it is here that British ideology is at its most insidious.

  8. Sam Mitchell

    I’m with you Jas… but also agree on many of the comments made re this article… I am unsure about the ‘elite’ determination to further their own careers… as I can not see those elite as being that shallow…. but then again I have never really paid that much attention to ‘journalists’ as having some font of wisdom as basically they write what their employers want… & not from the soul… otherwise they would have seriously questioned … and continually questioned the decades old misgovernance of Scotland and its creaking infrastructure… instead of staying inside the tent & having the occasional leak through the flap.

  9. Kate Penman

    Sorry – this might be a bit long and it is something I posted elsewhere so let me just say – I’m with you on this GA…

    As a craver of independence, a ‘yes’ voter, I read what I can of blogs and ‘Yes’ sites, facebook pages etc. in an effort to gain knowledge so that I can debate (or dispute) ‘no’ arguments and I read to determine what more can be done to get the message across to ‘soft no’ voters that Scotland having self-determination is what any country would/should and could want. One of the things that strikes me is the message from some of the more prominent sites continually making the point that ‘yes’ is NOT SNP – that ‘Yes’ is a collection of people from different parties, different age groups, different parts of the nation, etc. all coming together for the same reason – to help achieve self-determination for Scotland. Some of them actually seem as though they are trying to distance themselves so much from the idea that independence is not SNP (it’s not but it’s our formal political machine that will take us there), to the point that they are really starting to ANNOY me!

    Which is my point – They make the point themselves. The ‘yes’ vote is made up of all kinds of people, all groups of people thinking similar things – and we have to use everything they bring to the table! Whether it ANNOYS us or not! This isn’t about what one group or blog wants, it’s about everyone’s group or blog. About everyone’s ideas! ABSOLUTELY we want to win IndyRef2 but there is NO right and wrong way to do it and no one director of the show. Therefore, we have to accept that one blog/group’s way may not be what we see as the way to go about this. But we have to suck that up. Not everyone will see it our way. It is what it is…

    A particular group on a prominent site felt that SNPx2 was not the way to win an election. Even now there is still controversy over whether that was what led to the loss of a majority for the SNP in the May election. But they pushed that SNP/Green idea until the cows came home, in spite of how others saw it. And whether we agreed or not, we had to suck that up. And – that was their right. Just as it is the right of Inform Scotland to decide on billboards. The crowdfunder was more than subscribed, so I’m thinking many people agree with that idea. I personally feel if it’s cleverly done, it’s as good an idea as any other idea I have seen lately. (But you know what? Those alternative ideas have actually been few.)

    But what I DON’T think is a good look, is this continual carping about how a particular group is ‘doing it wrong’. How one ‘yes’ group (or three) thinks they have the right to determine whether ‘Inform Scotland’ is right or wrong. Yes, everyone has the right to an opinion but carrying it on and making a big deal of it as has happened on Facebook and Twitter only shows no cohesion in what ‘yes’ are saying, no cohesion in what ‘yes’ stand for, thus making the whole independence argument look unstable, run by people who cannot work together. Is THAT the image ‘yes’ wants to portray? Is that image going to bring ‘no’ voters around? I don’t think so… At least Inform Scotland have come up with an idea, have gotten the money to do it, and are taking that idea forward. All I see everywhere else is just… talking…

    What do I mean by ‘just talking’? But foot soldiers are out, badges are being mailed out, yada, yada… Yep… all good stuff – when it works! I just received a polling card this morning for an election being held here in two weeks. I HAD NO IDEA there was an election here! I have NO idea who is leaving their post, whether it’s Council or MP, who the ’other’ candidates are, who the potential SNP councillor/member will be… No ‘grass roots’ doorstep caller, NO leaflets – NOTHING. Now when I get to the polling booth, I know what to look for (that SNP logo) but – for someone who doesn’t know how they are going to vote, I say… are the SNP foot soldiers doing anything to convince them? The SNP group here have our number, they know they can call on us to get leaflets out – haven’t had a call… why not? Hence I feel very comforable being able to say at least Inform Scotland ARE actively doing something!

    PS: As someone who has worked extensively with elderly folks, let me put this ‘out there’… This is a group of citizens whom everyone feels to be one of the main group that don’t vote SNP. Well… elderly folks (and those in Care Homes) don’t go out much – they can’t be bothered, their arthritis makes it difficult, they’d rather not have to listen to grandchildren’s raucous play,but MAINLY the biggest problem is often no family comes to take them out. These elderly souls ARE however collected by supporters of political parties and taken out to vote. Guess what all these older people do when they are NOT out gallivanting? They sit and watch TV – MOSTLY BBC! They’ll sit and watch the news “to keep up with what’s going on, seeing they don’t get out much”. Now – these are the very people you want to convince to vote ‘yes’? Well guess what you have to do to get that unionist, ‘we’re all in this together’ propaganda out of their heads… Yep – I get it. They aren’t out, they won’t see the billboards. But the fact is, SOMETHING has to be done about getting the message out to them because THEY are watching BBC & taking it all in like a sponge… and voting accordingly… ??

  10. millie

    I think it may be a generation thing- though I may be wrong.

    For example, the young people- like the one you’ve quoted above who gives ‘non-constructive’ criticism by referring to ‘frothing paranoid d…….’!

    Currently, if these young people didn’t have access to social media or the internet- would ‘they’ believe what they are being told by the BBC? Would they just accept BBC reporting as fact?

    I’d be interested to know where these young people were in 2008/9, when there was very little social media available, when some people on here were actively trying to get people to question some of the output from the BBC. Were they around and aware, when people in Scotland were being blocked from leaving comments on BBC Political Blogs in Scotland- this did not happen in England, Wales, or N Ireland?

    Are they aware the effort it took for those who set up the Newsnet Scotland site at a time when it was deemed ‘not acceptable’, ridiculed and undermined by MSM?

    Many people are in a situation that they have ‘no’ access whatsoever to the internet. They believe every word that is broadcast by BBC Scotland. I’d imagine the people behind the billboards understand this and feel that BBC misinformation has got to be pointed out – (some subtle but concise poster creations by ‘indy poster boy’ would be good to see on billboards).

    That aside, I do think Derek Bateman has a point regarding the possible ‘overuse’ by the independence side of saltires, kilts etc at marches and gatherings- the ‘intensity’ of it is not a good look and I know it puts many people off. – But everyone has free will. I also think the ‘yoon’, ‘cybernat’ and ‘zoomer’ language is really unhelpful.

    I remember in 1992 walking towards George Square for the ‘Scotland United’ rally. I thought 20 people might gather- but no, people were coming from every street around George Square – very ordinary people- no flags, no kilts. It was serious- the atmosphere was electric with a feeling that we were actually doing something at last. We will be taken more seriously by the undecideds if we have fewer flags around our shoulders. Having said this, that day, I wish ‘I’ had seen a billboard pointing out that I should ‘question’ the BBC’s output.

    Finally, observing some from the yes side, (and it does seem to be mostly the younger people) who continually carp from the side-lines, knocking and sneering the efforts of other yessers instead of scrutinising the Westminster establishment is beginning to wear me down. It is dragging us back.

  11. Lochside

    Surprised at the flak aimed at you Mr P. Smacks of jealousy on Haggery et al’s part. The way I’ve seen it is that since the ‘Newsnet’ days you have led the incisive and forensic analysis of the BBC’s blatant propaganda against our people. Real evidence of attempts by the State broadcaster to brainwash us, whilst diletantes like these ‘intellectuals’ have attempted to proselytise their pet theories for a new Scotland while the old one was being lied into subserviance.

    They epitomise the old sad Scottish failing of dividing our forces in face of the enemy..the English and their Scottish traitors. In 1992 I marched with Scotland United. I saw the embarassment about having ‘Scottish’ emblems and flags then..thankfully that cringe factor has all but evaporated. People are comfortable and at ease with saltires as a political banner, not a racist or daft football accessory. But interestingly, the same Haggerty’s and Smalls of this country don’t like public demonstrations outside the BBC or in our streets and parks. Why?…too crude?….too working class?…too real perhaps?

    Without public displays of civil resistance such as marches, gatherings, meetings and are the non aware to become aware?..Will the papers tell them?…will the BBC?. We know the answer, that’s why the chatterati are nothing but a bunch of Scottish cringers writ large, a waste of valuable time,sitting contemplating their navels while the Brits steal a march..yet again.

  12. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

    Short of an unexpected whistleblower, the only real answer to sceptics of news bias within BBC Scotland will remain ongoing case-studies such as GA Ponsonby has so doggedly catalogued. No histrionics are required. Just such patient detailed monitoring.

    As accumulated case studies are duly pondered, explanations other than gerrymandering become increasingly implausible. Though personal thresholds are very different, eventually loyalty to the BBC can surely only mean naivety or collusion. (Maybe there are also some who do recognize the bias but somehow mysteriously persuade themselves of the merits of a tactical silence?)

    One practical strategy (which I have not seen suggested elsewhere) would be to produce a give-away leaflet containing a taster of perhaps three (summaries?) of GA Ponsonby’s most conclusive studies, plus links to the ‘London Calling’ documentary (when online) and to the free-to-read full book (which of course could be usefully updated with a supplementary chapter of recent material).

  13. millie

    RE; article 50. The court has just come to the UK Govs rescue over the vote in parliament about triggering article 50.

    Re: billboard; having been subjected to BBC Radio Scotland all of this morning; the billboards can’t come fast enough.

    Can I suggest the first billboard includes a bit about the ‘scorched earth policy’ Westminster is putting in place for Scotland’s energy sector.

    1. Carbon Capture project cancelled.
    2. Longannet forced to close.
    3. Renewables industry now being scuppered.
    4. Grid charges

    They want Scotland to become an importer of energy and to destroy our energy sector.

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